30. Holly Golightly – Sally Go Round The Roses (The Jaynetts cover)
British singer-songwriter Holly Golightly began her career in a garage-rock girl group called Thee Headcoatees. She subsequently kept things raw and intimate on her solo recordings, including, in 1996, her rendition of “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses.” And what a version! If there was something ominous about the track concerning a girl comforting a friend with “secrets,” and telling her to go ’round the roses to avoid seeing her “baby with another girl,” then Golightly spots it. She plays on the song’s inherent strangeness with her languid, raspy singing style, off-kilter self-harmonies, and gritty, untamed guitar licks, all of which are offset by some deeply cool Hammond organ lines. She gives a compelling rock ‘n’ roll edge to this enigmatic and far from typical girl group lament. – Adam Mason
29. Swervedriver – Reflections (The Supremes cover)
Weird and slippery. Spaced out and psychedelic. Over fifty years old and still as eerie, ominous and utterly disorienting as it was the day it was first recorded. All hail Diana Ross & the Supremes “Reflections”, still the most eccentric and sonically progressive song to have emerged from the Motown hit factory of the ’60s. Now come join us as ballsy and beloved shoegazers Swervedriver seamlessly navigate the song’s slippery time signature and reshape “Reflections” into a rumbling, sludgy rock song. It has never sounded sweeter. – Hope Silverman
28. Bananarama and Fun Boy Three – He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (The Velvelettes cover)
Bananarama, in the early ’80s, were very much the British post-punk update of the classic ’60s girl group. In the Velvelettes’ “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin'” they found a song to build their career as innocent, fun-loving popsters. They couldn’t sing quite as well as Carolyn, Bertha and Mildred, maybe, but they injected the 1964 track with their infectious brand of jubilant, unpolished harmonies and shambolic charm. They additionally gained the offbeat backing of the Fun Boy Three (priceless as flirting boys in the video), shortened the title a little, and piled on the hairspray, to have a much bigger hit with the song in the UK than the Motown originators. It was #5 in 1982 and is still impossible to resist. – Adam Mason
27. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Then She Kissed Me [Live in St. Louis] (The Crystals cover)
Bruce Springsteen’s cover of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” was an E Street Band live staple in the mid-‘70s, popping up occasionally in later years, including this knockout show-opener in St. Louis. Though a pronoun-flopped version could feel contrived in more-macho hands — the song is refashioned here as “Then She Kissed Me” — Springsteen’s take feels genuine and reverential. As the composer and performer of many of his own mini teenage symphonies, it’s no surprise that The Boss can so uncannily channel the youthful yearnings and passions of The Crystals. Musically, too, The E Street Band are well-equipped to heighten the arrangement’s iconic Spector-ian flourishes. There’s Clarence Clemons, blasting the string-led bridge out as a tenor sax lead; and Max Weinberg too, clattering along with gusto, even sans castanets and a proper timpani set. Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Then He Kissed Me” is big, bright and beautiful, gleaming like a Cadillac rolling down Thunder Road. – Ben Easton
26. Twisted Sister – Leader Of The Pack (The Shangri-Las cover)
The original “Leader of the Pack” is such a masterpiece of kitsch that I can’t see any other way of covering it than with a hefty amount of tongue in cheek. Twisted Sister, probably amongst the most reviled of the hair-metal excesses of the last century, their reputation cemented more on their appearance than their music, have a body of work I am largely unfamiliar with. Indeed, this may be the only of their songs I know, and, y’know, it’s really good. With a good deal more self-awareness than one might have expected from this genre, Dee Snider and his band send up both themselves and the original, yet maintain the underlying and necessary bombast, with the wall of sound exchanged for a several sheets of metal. I suddenly and strangely find myself a fan. – Seuras Og
25. Geo – My World Is Empty Without You (The Supremes cover)
The original up-tempo arrangement of The Supremes’ “My World is Empty Without You” almost disguises the fact that the song is incredibly dark: “From this old world I try to hide my face/From this loneliness there’s no hiding place”. Heavy stuff, partially concealed beneath the jaunty sheen of Motown.
Short-lived Dutch band Geo (named after lead singer Geo Dijkhuis) took a different approach when they covered the song in 1978, choosing to play up its maudlin, melodramatic potential with anguished vocals and angsty guitar solos. This version of the tune belongs to a small sub-genre of music called “Songs that Should Have Been Featured in Crime Dramas Directed by Michael Mann in the ‘80s or ‘90s.” Seriously, this song is crying out to be included on the soundtrack of an L.A. noir like Thief or Heat. – Tim Edgeworth
24. Edie Brickell & Paul Simon – Mr. Lee (The Bobbettes Cover)
Brickell and Simon channel the easygoing energy of the original, even with only acoustic guitars accompanying them. There is a great *sproing* noise that adds a little character if you listen carefully. It took me a little while to notice that it wasn’t coming from the background, but was actually created by Brickell on her instrument. There is a richness in the duo’s vocals as they deftly pass the tune pass and forth. – Sara Stoudt
23. Grateful Dead – Dancing in the Street [Live at Cornell ’77] (Martha and the Vandellas cover)
The Grateful Dead’s studio version of “Dancin’ in the Streets” usually tops Deadhead lists of the band’s worst songs. The band recorded the track for its 1977 album Terrapin Station as a way to try to break onto the pop charts. It didn’t work. The faux-disco track featured Donna Godchaux on lead vocals, with Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia on backup. Fortunately, the song fared much better in concert, where it was a regular part of the band’s set list from the mid-‘60s through the late ‘80s. In 1977, at the band’s fabled show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, they reworked it as an epic 16-minute funk jazz exploration. Garcia’s inspired solos seem to go on forever, enough to blot out the memory of the otherwise awkward studio cut. – Curtis Zimmermann
22. Neko Case – Train From Kansas City (The Shangri-Las cover)
Neko Case’s voice is an instrument that’s uniquely suited to translate the power of Girl Group music in the present day. With its clarion tone and unassailable presence, Case’s contralto feels like the brave and liberating (and perhaps unexpected) endpoint of a long lineage of musical expression. The big booming presence of those Spector productions; the technical precision and melodic might of Motown melodies; the radiant joy of so many one-hit wonders — all of these are swirling and incarnate in Case’s singular, complex voice. (Incidentally, Case was even part of her own modern-day “Girl Group” in 2016 — the supergroup case/lang/veirs, featuring fellow musical collaborators k.d. lang and Laura Veirs.).
With all this in mind, it feels both fitting and thrilling that Neko Case would take on the Shangri-Las’ powerhouse B-side “Train from Kansas City.” The Shangri-Las are perhaps the most idiosyncratic Girl Group of their era, with a grittiness and an adventuresome creative spirit that Case channels in her cover. Appearing on her 2004 live record The Tigers Have Spoken, the cover barrels forward with huge and wild abandon: a colossal drum groove, clanging guitars, and Case’s voice (alongside a close harmony partner) whipping and booming gloriously around the tracks. Neko Case leaves the stagiest tropes of the Shangri-Las’ original behind at the station, charting a forward-looking course that lets “Train from Kansas City” feel cathartic, resonant and truly modern. – Ben Easton
21. Fox – Captain of Your Ship (Reparata and the Delrons cover)
Fox were a decade lasting band, starting in the mid-’70s, striking a chord in the imaginations of teenage boys for the breathy vocals and exotic appearance of the singer, always guaranteed to heighten any showing of Top of the Pops. With the singer a prototype for Stevie Nicks, all silk and flowing satin, the band had a brief run of hits, and were the project of longstanding Brill building and onward songwriter, Kenny Young, who played guitar in the band. He had actually written “Captain of Your Ship,” first made a hit by Reparata and the Delrons (albeit only in Europe, a UK number 3) in 1968. This later version, all synths and production tricks of the day, probably only hit the ears of completists and cover freaks, sneaking out on Fox retrospectives. – Seuras Og
The list continues on Page 5.
Great list, and even after your “honorable mentions” there are still a ton of other contenders. I personally like Jeff Beck and Imelda May’s version of “Remember (Walking In The Sand),” that you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdkjGwGJQc.
Also, speaking of the Shangri-Las, their version of “He Cried” was actually a cover of Jay & the American’s hit song, “She Cried,” which ITSELF was a cover! Thanks again.
Imelda May & Jeff Beck – (Remember) Walking in the Sand
Rachel Sweet – Be My Baby/And Then He Kissed Me
The Stray Cats – You Can’t Hurry Love
Lucius – You Keep Me Hanging On
If we accept that My Sweet Lord was rightly found to be a reworking of He’s So Fine, then this cover that blends both those tunes qualifies for this list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90V–oQ8IwM
Did I zip through your list too fast and miss where you featured Laura Nyro and LaBelle from Gonna Take a Miracle?
I’ll pick this one from among the several options off the record: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3JpeBNBrkg
You did miss it, Kevin; go to #20 and you’ll see we picked the same song as you, and then one more for good measure!